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January 10, 2012


Odd ethical question that popped into my mind: if pre-conception eugenics is wrong (the kind Chesterton is opposing...a sort of social/political eugenics, I suppose), and post-conception eugenics is wrong (selection through abortion), is eugenics at conception (assuming it can ever be done) also wrong? I'm thinking Gattaca here...the ability to actually custom-design your embryos injured in the process. It seems wrong, but only in a vague "don't play God" kind of way.

Cool that you are reading Chesterton, by the way. I've been reading him recently. C.S. Lewis had great things to say about him, and I'd agree from what I've read.

Don, I think that would also violate human dignity in the way it treats the human person--as a commodity to be created according to the whims of others, rather than as a distinct, separate person entrusted to our care.

It would change the way we look at people (and their value), and it would change the way we look at imperfection. The mere pursuit of it would betray a misunderstanding of what our lives are about.

The pursuit of utopia in a fallen world can only ever lead to an obsessive destruction of imperfection...or at least, a destruction of what the people in power consider to be imperfections. And that never, ever creates goodness, truth, or beauty.

Amy, I have a friend who was born with a heart condition. She has two sons who both inherited her heart problems and has decided, for that reason, not to have any more children. Do you see anything wrong with her decision?

Suppose a person was looking for a spouse, and they decided to included among their criteria that their spouse have good health and a generally healthy family history because they wanted their children to be healthy. Do you think there's anything wrong with that?

In Texas, they used to require blood tests before issuing marriage licenses. I think the purpose was so that both parties would know the risks they were taking (since some blood types have compatibility issues, and since some diseases are carried in the blood). Do you think there's anything wrong with that requirement?

No, I don't see anything wrong with her decision. Deciding whether or not to have children based on your situation and what you're able to handle is different from:

1) Having the government force the decision on you according to their criteria.

2) Creating lots of children so you can pick through them and decide which ones to keep.

3) Killing your child after you find out there's something wrong with it.

I think the major differences between what you're describing and the objectionable situation in the past was #1.

You can decide to whom you want to commit in terms of a spouse by whatever criteria you choose. If there's a health issue you can't handle dealing with, it would be better for you not to marry the person. But once you're committed, it would be wrong to reject her if you discovered she had a health flaw.

Before commitment, it doesn't seem so objectionable. But I admit, I would think it was weird if a guy asked for my health history before he would date me, and that would be the end of his chances. But at the same time, if I had a serious genetic issue, I would let a guy know pretty quickly because of course he needs to know all the facts before he can decide if he wants to commit.

Amy, what do you think about the blood test requirement? That seems to be a situation where the government is not forcing you to refrain from having children with certain people, but it does seem to be an example of the government discouraging you from having children with certain people. Do you think there's anything wrong with that?

Or what about laws prohibiting people from marrying their siblings? I saw a talk show a long time ago where a twin brother and sister who had been adopted out and birth and didn't grow up together found each other as adults and fell in love before they discovered they were brother and sister. (It seems like something similar almost happened in Star Wars.) As far as I can tell, the only reason the government forbids these types of marriages is because incests greatly increases the chances of defective children. Of course the government can't prevent siblings from procreating, but the design of the law seems to be to prevent/reduce/discourage it. So it's a kind of eugenics. Do you think there's anything wrong with that?

I don't know if it's so much for the purpose of discouraging as it is for the purpose of full disclosure. I'm not sure what they test for, but I don't think it's genetic testing, I think it's for current diseases.

As for your other question, here's what Chesterton says:

It is only right to say here, though the matter should only be touched on, that many Eugenists would...claim that there was a consciously Eugenic reason for the horror of those unions which begin with the celebrated denial to man of the privilege of marrying his grandmother. Dr. S.R. Steinmetz, with that creepy simplicity of mind with which the Eugenists chill the blood, remarks that "we do not yet know quite certainly" what were "the motives for the horror of" that horrible thing which is the agony of Aedipus. With entirely amiable intention, I ask Dr. S.R. Steinmetz to speak for himself. I know the motives for regarding a mother or sister as separate from other women; nor have I reached them by any curious researches. I found them where I found an analogous aversion to eating a baby for breakfast. I found them in a rooted detestation in the human soul to liking a thing in one way, when you already like it in another quite incompatible way. Now it is perfectly true that this aversion may have acted eugenically; and so had a certain ultimate confirmation and bases in the laws of procreation...

The laws in this country didn't originate with eugenics (so I don't think they cite genetic problems as a reason, though I could be wrong), they originated with the taboo in the culture, which was informed by our own intuitions and the prohibitions in the Mosaic Law, which I think had in mind the protection of the safety of the family unit.

Ask yourself, if this is really only about eugenics, why would this prohibition remain while all others were abolished? I think the reason is that we all know deep down that there's more too it than that. If it were merely a law about eugenics, we would have to teach it to our children, but what child doesn't instinctively know he ought not to marry his sister? It goes deeper.

So, not kowing exactly how to follow a "What's really wrong with incest?" type comment, since someone brought Star Wars into this there is some precendents in Science Fiction that genetic manipulation may not be a good idea. ie. The Island of Doctor Moreau, Brave New World, Andromeda's Nietzscheans or Star Trek's Eugenics Wars (remember Khan Noonian Singh?).

If we get into genetic manipulation, what makes anyone thinks that we won't end up with a new class based society? A split between those financially able to genetically assist their children and the poor left with the kludge job provided by nature? Bloodlines will actually be a measure of one's quality.

Ask yourself, if this is really only about eugenics, why would this prohibition remain while all others were abolished?

It could be that most of us aren't really against eugenics altogether. What we're really against is the government taking away our right to procreate and the government allowing us to kill our children. We're only opposed to eugenics by extension since those are methods of eugenics. But we're perfectly okay with eugenics that don't include those methods.

I think you're right that the prohibition against incest has more to do with taboo than with eugenics, though.

Trent, I don't think the scenarios in stories like The Island of Dr. Moreau are very good reasons to avoid genetic manipulation. What is the argument after all? is it something like this?:

1. Whatever can possibly lead to bad consequences is bad.
2. Genetic manipulation can possibly lead to bad consequences.
3. Therefore, genetic manipulation is bad.

It would be all too easy to poke holes in that first premise. So if this argument from Dr. Moreau is to go through, we've got to use a different premise. What is the premise? What is the argument?

I don't find the class based society argument against genetic manipulation to be a very good argument either. After all, people already differ genetically in ways that make some people physically and mentally superior to others. And people already have greater and lesser advantages and privileges because of their differences in wealth. So genetic manipulation isn't going to cause things to be any different than they already are regarding class.

And besides, the argument from class based societies and Dr. Moreau-type islands is very speculative.

And the assumption that eugenics won't make any real difference is also very speculative, and somewhat defeating much of the point of eugenics at all.

I'm sorry, I just see a greater range of possible issues that may arise. The fact that you cannot does not change that fact that they are still possible, and from human nature not necessarily unlikely. When considering the possibilities available in terms of transhumanism and post humanism, I find your speculation very unimaginative.

When Humanity has an option to screw things up, I can't see them passing it up.

GATACA: The Next Generation

"When Humanity has an option to screw things up, I can't see them passing it up."
That's eminently quotable.

Khan Noonien Singh: Improve a mechanical device and you may double productivity, but improve man and you gain a thousandfold.

>> "Our culture needs to sit down and seriously think through some questions about what it means to be a human being. And I don't just mean the question, "When do rights begin in a human life?" I mean the big ones: What are we?"


[Tony inserts the same link he's been inserting for 5 years:]

[keeps reading...]

Hmm... Amy, your article started good. But ended up being mostly just about plain old Selective Reduction.

The big question is what you started with:

What are we?

It's gonna be possible in a few decades to sit down at a computer and type out any genome you want.

When this happens, how many lines of code N may we change in Amy's genome, before the resultant construct is no longer a child of God?

We know there exists a number N, because you believe that, for example, Bubble's the chimp is not a child of God.

"We know there exists a number N, because you believe that, for example, Bubble's the chimp is not a child of God."

I think that needs clarification.

If you make N changes to Amy's genome, you have a chimp.

So God made people, but not chimps? It would be more accurate to say after how many changes, can you not be classified as a Homo Sapiens Sapiens?

That is where the question of transhumanism and posthumanism comes in, where Sam seems to think isn't going to alter anything from where it is now so it's not a problem.


You say kill not murder. Why is that?



>> "So God made people, but not chimps?"

chimps are not the "children of God"

e.g. if I kill a chimp and serve up his brain as a fine piece of cuisine, this does not violate "Though Shall Not Kill"

However, if I do this to Amy's brain, it does.

So there exists a number of changes to Amy's genome (n) such that the resultant genome is no longer a child of god.

You are talking about the Imago Dei? Is that genetic or spiritual?

While we're at it, Amy, if I use an IUD or take an oral contraceptive which am I: a killer or a murderer?


I believe that question is based on an false premise, namely that personhood exists prior to conception.


Read about how IUD's and oral contraceptives work.


First I'm curious as to the viability of admittedly imperfect human beings somwehow designing perfection happends.The thing is illogical on its face as even the concept of perfection would need to be perfected. I agreee with J. Budziszewski that going down this road one is only going to create one of two things.A race of slaves or a race of masters. We certainly are not out to create a race of equals.
Another problem usually overlooked is that today we are such slaves to the immediate that these things are not going to be to "better humanity" for posterity ,but the trends of the moment.And as fast as cultural tastes change, what is going to happen when by the time the child is born it is "out of fashion".? This has disaster written all over it. Just as it always had.

Sam doesn't think so.


Here in Canada, it is only murder if a child is fully birthed before the death occurs, so in a legal sense your question would be meaningless because prior than that there is no legal status. The distinction between killing and murder is a legal one.


Check this out.



should we eliminate braces and laser eye surgery too?


The difference, in law, between killing and murder is arbitrary based on popularity?

In this case an abortion prevention vote is defeated because as stated it would have consequences other than the desired one, rather than the merits of the original proposal.

I could also make the argument that free speech should not be legal because of the fact it can be used to commit various crimes or incite people to do things that might not be wanted.

I see it more of an object lesson in properly wording the proposal. There is a reason laws are not single line statements.

>> "You are talking about the Imago Dei? Is that genetic or spiritual?"

Christians believe that there exists a set of genomes that result in constructs that were created in the image of God. And, after fertilization, are given a soul.

However it is probably possible for a human soul/mind dyad to occupy a different set of genomes -- than they have traditionally.

e.g. via spiritual means -- like what happened to the poor swine in Matthew 8.

Not to mention the myriad of xenotransplantation procedures which have already been done -- e.g. putting pig neurons into the brain of stroke-victim Amanda Davis.

And then you have the new research which shows we might all be carrying neanderthal dna in us right now. So, it depends on whether or not you think neanderthals were part of God's chosen organisms. If they're not, then we may all be the product of bestiality.

No wonder the world is in such a fallen state!


Not much meaning in that response unless you can explain what is meant by the genomic position of the "soul/mind dyad".

Again, are you claiming the soul is based on genetics?


I think the consequences you call undesired are not undesired at STR.





"what is meant by the genomic position of the "soul/mind dyad"."

the position of Christians is that certain genomes result in constructs that get a soul and a mind.


I don't think that is entirely accurate, by which I think it is quite inaccurate.

I think that the standard Christian position is that a particular lineage has a human soul. I.e. those who can trace a lineage back to Adam. A chimp does not have a human should because it it is not a descendant of Adam and Not because it exceeds a certain barrier in genetic differentiation


Interesting comment, but I don't find it relevant unless your position is that STR is a minority position and minorities should be ignored.

atheism and homosexuality are minorities according to the census and I assume that you are not advocating that they get ignored.

My point was that murder is legally defined. That still does not indicate that killing an unborn child is something that I would support even though there isn't a specific law against it, which where I live there is not any legislation either allowing or disallowing it. The unborn simply have no status, unless injury caused death post-birth.

Sorry, I mean human soul and not human should.

Using an iPad, and the autospelling changes stuff if you don't proofread accurately enough.


>> I think that the standard Christian position is that a particular lineage has a human soul. I.e. those who can trace a lineage back to Adam.

Adam and Eve's genome being the bench mark of course. So there exists a range from the benchmark that a genome is allowed to vary -- before you would say that it would no longer have a soul.

Hi Trent,
If you're wondering where you already thrashed this silly neandertal genome argument ....


Think consistency.

STR makes the following argument.
Amy, please correct me as needed because I don't want to misrepresent STR's position.

Murder is the illegal/immoral killing of a human being.
From fertilization, a human embryo is a human being.
Abortion kills a human embryo without legal/moral justification.
Therefore, abortion is murder.

Consider this second argument.

These birth control methods prevent implantation of the embryo.

* Intrauterine Device (IUD)
* Oral Contraceptives (The Pill)
* Morning After Pill
* A few others

An embryo that doesn't implant will die.
Users of these methods typically don't legaly/morally justify killing the embryo.
Therefore, these users commit murder.

STR dosn't make the second argument.

Why not?
Hiding the crazy, maybe?


OOPS, I mispelled *legally*

Why is the first argument used at STR and not the second?



You are absolutely correct.

If murder is any destruction of human life, and a living entity ( ie embryo) which would be classified as human is destroyed, then the act would be defined as murder. Society gets around this by changing the definition of murder to refer to persons rather than humans, a definition that about 100 years ago did not include women so one would have to wonder if the definition was persons and women were not persons if Jack the Ripper actually murdered anyone or merely killed them.

As I said, there is a reason that laws are written more than one sentence long, to clarify the exact meaning and any caveats or exceptions.


I do not think you understood the point I made.

1- My understanding of the Christian position is that genetic diversity is not relevant. Lineage is. No matter how much eugenics happens, or how much the genome evolves, we are all descendants of Adam, and therefore Human. I am not restricting the term to Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

2- I do not accept the hypothesis that the soul's existance or non-existence is based on genetics.

I think eugenics may cause lots of social problems, but I really do not think God will decide that we've gone one base pair too far from his template and deny our descendants souls.

He does have a point. The bible is obsessed with lineages and family trees. It may talk about nationality but is generally not overly interested in "race".


You say I'm correct.

What did I say that you agree with?

Were these words my words or what I claimed were STR's words?

RonH (I didn't make the previous comment)


The arguement that you presented is technically correct as you defined it.

I define things a bit differently, as I already stated.


So the HGP samples was based on several volunteers.

If they booted up that genome, are you saying it wouldn't have a soul?


I asked, quite clearly, a couple of questions.

I can't find the answers to them in your last comment.

What does your last comment mean?


So the HGP samples was based on several volunteers.

If they booted up that genome, are you saying it wouldn't have a soul?


Ask me again IF someone ever boots up a cell and it is capable of growing into a fully functional adult.

As per my discussion previously, such a creature would not be a descendant of Adam, but rather a constructed facsimile. Since I have already stated that I do not believe that the soul is the result of genetics, the logical conclusion is that simply adding the proper sequences of DNA will not create one.

There might be a decent simulation, but it would likley have no more of a soul than a piece of software that seems to simulate human thought.


You stated:

1- Murder is the illegal/immoral killing of a human being.

2- From fertilization, a human embryo is a human being.

3- Abortion kills a human embryo without legal/moral justification.

4- Therefore, abortion is murder.

5- An embryo ( defined in 2 )that doesn't implant will die.

6- Users of these methods (contraceptive methods you identified) typically don't legaly/morally justify killing the embryo.

7- Therefore, these users commit murder.

I think we can ignore #6 and #4 as unneeded for the arguement, and lets rearrange.

1- Murder is the illegal/immoral killing of a human being.

2- From fertilization, a human embryo is a human being.

3- Abortion kills a human embryo without legal/moral justification.

5- An embryo ( defined in 2 )that doesn't implant will die.

7- Therefore, these users commit murder.

#3 and #5 are pretty much the same so why do we need both?

1- Murder is the illegal/immoral killing of a human being.

2- From fertilization, a human embryo is a human being.

5- An embryo ( defined in 2 )that doesn't implant will die.

7- Therefore, these users commit murder.

The second arguement is not needed.

or a more secular version

1- Murder is the illegal/immoral killing of a human being.

2- From fertilization, a human embryo is a human being.

3- Abortion kills a human embryo without legal/moral justification.

7- Therefore, these users commit murder.

This version is modified bywhatever legislation is in a location that defines legal justification.


The 2nd argument is absolutely essential.

The 2nd is correct if the 1st is.
Yet STR uses only the 1st.

Why does STR not use the 2nd?

That is the point.


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